Prosecuting Facebook

As I was trying to complete a few legislative issues regarding Greece, I noticed that another part had been neglected for too long, so I decided to cut Greece in half (at least the story) and now take a look at the situation where Facebook might find itself getting prosecuted in the near future in more than one way.

This story started in the Netherlands. The story (at http://www.meuknieuws.nl/wraakpornofilmpje/) ‘Facebook loses lawsuit revenge porn movie Chantal‘. So what happened?

There is a girl named Chantal (now 21), who at one point gave oral sex to her boyfriend, and it got filmed (never a good idea). On January 22nd, through a fake account this movie was spread through Facebook, after which her life turned into a hell. Even though Facebook removed the movie, the damage was done and the movie got spread into all directions. Soon thereafter the fake account vanished. This is the act of revenge porn.

The case got a twist when all the data was removed after two weeks, the data was permanently deleted. Additional information in Dutch can be found here (at http://www.ad.nl/ad/nl/34821/Rivierenland/article/detail/4072928/2015/06/12/Facebook-gegevens-account-gewist.dhtml). The data was (according to Facebook) wiped. The Judge has ruled that Facebook must show diligence and present evidence that all options have been searched to find any data pertaining the crime. The judge also stated that if need be a third party has to be assigned to find and trace the information. Now we have two issues. One is to find the data of Chantal, the second is that the acts undertaken by Facebook could imply that Facebook could also be prosecuted at present.

Why?

Well, if we go through Common Law (Australia/UK) we see that in Australia the Crimes Act section 254 states:

Destruction of evidence

A person who knows that a document or other thing of any kind is, or is reasonably likely to be, required in evidence in a legal proceeding; and either

destroys or renders it illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification; or expressly, tacitly or impliedly authorises or permits another person to destroy or conceal it or render it illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification and that other person does so; and with the intention of preventing it from being used in evidence in a legal proceeding is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) or a level 6 fine or both. There could even be complications as the lady was less than 18 years old giving the case additional uneasy sides.

Ouch Mr Zuckerberg!

In addition, hiding in the US on this is not much help either, this is seen in California Penal code 135 (thanks to the site of Attorney Seppi Esfandi), the penal code states:

California Penal Code 135[1] makes it illegal to destroy or conceal any evidence, written or physical, that you know is relevant to either a criminal investigation or court case. The two elements of the crime are:

That you destroyed or concealed evidence that you knew was going to be used as part of the investigation.
That you destroyed or concealed the evidence wilfully.

Interestingly, he also states a few common legal defences. The first one is the application of the word ‘knowingly’, which already makes it hard for the Dutch party to progress, the second one if destruction was not successful, so if the information is found after the fact it becomes not an issue, because penal code 135 does not have any ‘attempting to commit a crime’ issues. They can only be processed if the deletion was a complete success.

So, in all fairness, my first message to Mr Zuckerberg is to call Seppi Esfandi for advice as the man has 13 years of experience regarding penal code 135.

Why is this still an issue?

Well consider the following sources: ‘Facebook keeps track of every message you type – even ones you don’t post’ (at http://bgr.com/2013/12/13/facebook-user-tracking-deleted-posts/), where we see the quote “Facebook isn’t keeping a database on all these non-posts’ contents, mind you — it’s simply keeping a record of all the data surrounding self-censored posts such as what time it was almost posted and whether it was set to be posted on a friend’s page or on the user’s own page. Kramer and Das say that Facebook wants to understand all the reasons that people decide against posting because the company “loses value from the lack of content generation” every time a would-be post gets the axe” This is a core need in social media data mining, with the specific quote “Facebook wants to understand all the reasons that people decide against posting” which implies that a post would also have records created with a league of meta data.

Then there is this quote ““So Facebook considers your thoughtful discretion about what to post as bad, because it withholds value from Facebook and from other users,” she writes. “Facebook monitors those unposted thoughts to better understand them, in order to build a system that minimizes this deliberate behaviour”“, which we got from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/12/facebook_self_censorship_what_happens_to_the_posts_you_don_t_publish.html. So in anyone deleted the post, there would have been a record.

This is part one!

Now for the next part. This part is seen in ‘Turns out ‘delete’ doesn’t quite mean the same thing to Facebook as it does to you‘ (at http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/deleting-facebook-posts-fail/). Here we see the quote “New evidence suggests that Facebook might not really be deleting the posts you think you’re getting rid of. In fact, sometimes these deleted Facebook posts are reappearing“. So if that is the case, than we have two tiered evidence. If these messages are remaining, it implies that there was a record, which also means that if the movie and its metadata has been deleted permanently, Facebook could be facing California Penal Code 135, as well as the issue in several nations where such events have been happening, the only part Facebook could truly hope for is that it is all settled in the US, as it becomes a 6 months versus a 5 year stretch in Hotel Iron Bar.

Even if the case cannot stick, Facebook will now feel the marketing pressure and condemnation that it unknowingly assisted in the transgressors of revenge porn to remain non-prosecutable. So even as US legislation is still trying to make heads and tails of the act from Rep. Jackie Speier, the fact that it is law in some nations cannot be ignored by a global company like Facebook, in addition, the fact that all traces are claimed to have been wiped is further cause for concern.

The question now becomes: is Facebook in danger of getting prosecuted?

That question becomes even harder to answer when we go back to the Digital Trends article where we see: “We reached out to Facebook about the issue, whose representative only pointed out Facebook’s Terms and Conditions page, and highlighted the fact that that when you actually delete content on Facebook, it only goes away if it’s permanently deleted – which is tricky. The problem with permanently deleting anything on Facebook is the fact that nothing is actually seemingly deleted. Just simply “deleting” content stores the content to a backup Facebook drive temporarily. As Facebook puts it: “Some of this information is permanently deleted from our servers; however, some things can only be deleted when you permanently delete your account“.

That was exactly what happened, yet can there be verification on whether the user deleted it, or whether Facebook removed the user? That part is not clearly given (as far as I could tell). Yet, the issue of truly delete photos/videos on Facebook was never truly achieved until 2012, which means that the video in question was no longer there, yet the fact that no separate log of uploads was maintained in some way remains an interesting mystery, especially in the light of this legal case. In addition, some logging of the original account should also have been kept, again, interesting that this was not done. In an age where 4 Terabyte can be bought for a mere $250 dollars adds to the confusion of why not keeping this logging data, especially as mined data is the bread and butter of Facebook!

This case calls for several questions, the Lady named Chantal might never get a clear answer, yet that should not prevent legislation from taking a long hard look at social media, especially in the age of lone wolf terrorism, because next time it might not be a lady in ‘Bee Jay’ mode, it could be an extremist showing the combination of 4 chemical compounds, which according to Matthew Meselson, a Harvard biochemist is extremely easy, the fact that this could kill a boatload of people makes the dangers of social media a lot more intense, when that media starts to wipe overwrite, not delete) data of inconvenience, the world could find out the hard way on just how dangerous social media could be.

Revenge Porn has been deemed criminal in several states, although they are usually treated as misdemeanors (until the bill by Rep. Jackie Speier gets passed), the case in the Netherlands gives us an uncomfortable truth and that truth is that Facebook seems to be lacking in keeping some victims safe, because the logged logging data could have achieved that very thing.

To state it clear in the end, Facebook is very likely not guilty. I will not state innocent, because certain data, even for mere mining statistics could have remained with Facebook, whilst not breaching any privacy, enough data to give assistance to digital forensics to aid Chantal in her plight.

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